Council to act

on creating housing protection districts

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Tupelo's City Council will vote tonight on a proposal to permit the establishment of neighborhood protection districts to ensure housing quality within problem areas.

The vote, which would basically require certificates of occupancy before property can be rented or sold in certain areas, will come shortly after a public hearing on the plan.

The council will meet at 6 p.m. in the City Hall Annex on Court Street.

The new code would permit the council to designate neighborhoods as protection districts requiring landlords to obtain certificates of occupancy for new rentals, or for homeowners who want to sell their properties.

The certificates would be required before the city's Water and Light Department would provide services to a home or rental unit.

City planning and development officials have met several times with landlords and gotten mixed reviews on the plan, with many opposing the proposed change. However, city officials have altered some of the initial requirements in hopes of easing criticism.

"They (property owners) have all had a chance to make extensive comment," city planning director Pat Falkner told council members in an agenda work session Monday. "I don't know if they're going to come back (tonight)."

Falkner said he expects two to three spokespersons from neighborhood associations, which would be consulted before any protection district was declared, to speak at the public hearing.

Speakers will have five minutes to state their objections or support. Council President George Taylor said a sign-up list would be maintained at the annex door for those who want to speak to reserve time.

"I'd just as soon take them first-come first-serve," Taylor said of the order in which speakers will be heard.

But Ward 7 Councilman Danny Barrows indicated presentations might be limited if speakers merely intend to repeat the points of previous speakers.

Once declared, a protection district would be in existence for three years. Certificates of occupancy would be issued if an inspection of the facility found it met minimum city safety, health and building codes.

Falkner has stressed there are only about four small areas of the city which produce repeated complaints regarding substandard housing and would be likely candidates for protection designation.

Landlords in a district could obtain a certificate of occupancy at any time, although they would be required to have one if they wanted to rent to new tenants and put utilities in the new renters' names.

Certificates would be good for two years. There would be no fee for the first two inspections, but if a facility didn't meet code in the second survey, subsequent inspections would require a fee.

The city also will likely permit federal housing assistance (Section 8) inspections to suffice in place of a city inspection for gaining a certificate.

Anyone selling a home within the district would also have to obtain a certificate.

The council vote will also involve several other development code amendments, including restricting locations of satellite dishes and tightening rules on drainage easements within new subdivisions.

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